Friday, October 06, 2006

Common-sense theology

If you're wanting to go directly to the bottom line of the new report on the sacraments, here, rather deep in the document, is the answer to the simple question about whether the invitation to the Table should be to all believers or all baptized believers (pp 20-21):

In conclusion, in our review of the literature the biblical-theological rationales used by those in favor of and opposed to open table practice seem to suggest that the fullest range of meanings of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—both God’s expansive love and forgiveness and the call to be a community of disciples, the body of Christ in the world—is preserved and embodied through the normative practice of baptism before Eucharist. However, there is a strong biblical crosscurrent, notably in Jesus’ inclusive meal practice and his breaking of certain purity laws that would seem to allow or even call for the disruption of those regular practices if and when those sacramental practices wrongly serve exclusionary purposes [emphasis added].

I haven't had a chance to digest the whole paper yet, which General Assembly approved and requested to be sent to congregations. But what I have read so far appears solid and reasonable, seeking both to uphold the sacred meaning of our sacraments and apply that meaning in today's context.

It will be interesting to see what other comments are offered and received, prior to a final report to be made to General Assembly in 2010.

5 Comments:

Blogger Alan Trafford said...

Jim,
GA may have "approved' the Sacraments report, but we didn't have a chance to read it. It wasn't provided to the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee (13) except in an extract form. I'd managed to find a copy of it online before the GA, but even then I'm not sure I got hold of the latest version. Frankly, we were so worn out with the Trinity Paper stuff, and dealing with PPC, that the Sacraments paper didn't get the attention it deserved. We certainly looked at their recommendations, and I remember several issues being raised, but the impression we were given was that this was just a study paper anyway. Several of us expressed concern with some of the recommendations (particularly with the implied elevation of baptism over conversion) but, since the committee as a whole had obviously not invested a lot of effort or energy into studying the paper, the criticisms were largely ignored. I'm assuming that the paper will be ignored also.
The more I reflect, the more uncomfortable I become about the manner in which business was conducted in Committee 13. There were several issues where criticism was not allowed, particularly with regard to the reappointment of Davis Perkins. I'm afraid it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
Alan Trafford

7:27 AM, October 07, 2006  
Blogger PJ said...

Alan, your comment, "I'm afraid it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth," is an all-too-common reaction people have with regard to the GA. That's one of the reasons they went to having the GA every other year: so people only had that bad taste half as often…

11:19 AM, October 07, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

Alan and PJ,

Thanks for your additions. What Alan describes is, unfortunately, all too common. A large number of GA decisions are made this way on the fly, with too little actual information, too little knowledge, too little expertise, and too much blind trust that SOMEONE somewhere must know what is going on so the item must be okay.

If you could suspend time right as GA commissioners are voting and then poll all the voters about what the issue is, what the ramifications of a yes or no vote are, and why they are voting as they are, I am CERTAIN that you would be shocked about 75% of the time at the mistaken notions, inaccuracy of understanding, ignorance of the subject matter, and votes that would accomplish the exact opposite of what the commissioner intends.

Did I not believe in the sovereignty of God, who is able to work DESPITE our gravest faults, I think I would be in despair.

General Assembly is so often an exercise in blind trust that "whatever this unknown thing is, someone must have gotten it right who does know, so I'll vote for it." I've been around long enough now to know that the "gotten it right" part is frequently in error.

Jim Berkley

12:38 PM, October 07, 2006  
Blogger Martin Thompson said...

The belief that their could be such an anomaly as an unbaptized person who could at the same time be called a "believer' in Jesus is fairly modern.

I'd also add though that separating baptism from daily repentance and conversion is an equally bad distortion.

I'm trying to download the paper but un dial up it's very slow.

12:16 PM, October 08, 2006  
Blogger Aric Clark said...

I have to say that the requirement laid in our book of order that a person be baptized in order to accept communion seems to me an unacceptable bar placed before Christ's table, which contradicts the very spirit of inclusivity with which Christ engaged in table fellowship during his ministry. I'd be interested to hear why those of you who support this arrangement feel that way.

My present thinking, in much simplified form, goes something like this....

Baptism has been viewed in the past as the sign and seal of the new covenant, the act by which we participate in Christ's death and resurrection. Using this symbolism it would make sense, under a law-observing paradigm, to exclude people who were outside the covenant, just as Jewish table fellowship excluded gentiles. However, both Christ and Paul directly contradicted this practice. So it seems an odd distinction for modern Christians to try and uphold.

Another major argument I have heard made, usually by those who favor adult baptism, is that we must first accept Christ into our lives before we may take communion - an act that is primarily located in the decision to be baptized. However, a good reformed theologian should always put the emphasis on Christ's initiative, which to me suggests that we have to be welcomed to Christ's table whether or not we have claimed him as our savior and been baptized.

If it is indeed Christ's table and not ours, how may we make any decision to exlude any person? Surely anyone Christ has called into church that morning has already been invited by Christ - and those Christ wishes to exclude (should that even be the case) will be excluded already by having not been called into worship that day.

It seems to me the primary intent of preserving this order for the sacraments is to invest baptism with an inflated significance by making it a "gateway". I look forward to your thoughts...

12:56 PM, October 29, 2006  

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